A few years ago I was proctoring a final exam at a school where I was an adjunct instructor. One young man kept smiling as he wrote his exam and was the first to finish. He handed me the papers, shook my hand, and told me that he was graduating the next week. I congratulated him and he said, “I liked your course but I will never read another book again. I am through with learning.” Someone in the room said I remained stone-faced for moment, then managed a weak smile and wished him the best of luck. That young man is really going to need it if he is to have any semblance of a career.
I tell this story as a set up for a quick review of Tom Friedman’s new book, THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2016). You may know Friedman from his NEW YORK TIMES columns or from previous books including THE LEXUS AND THE OLIVE TREE, THE WORLD IS FLAT and HOT, FLAT AND CROWDED. I do not always agree with his conclusions but I find him to be a graceful writer and a damn fine storyteller. Also, I admire that he works hard (as many of us do) to stay on top of changes in communications and the global business world as well.
The subtitle to the book is “an optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations.” He gives no quarter to those who want to remain fat, dumb and happy as my former student appeared to be. In one passage, he summed up the issue facing young people brilliantly. Here goes: “Average is officially over. When I graduated from college I got to find a job; my girls have to INVENT theirs. I attended college to learn skills for life, and lifelong learning for me afterward was a hobby. My girls went to college to learn the skills that could garner them their first job, and lifelong learning for them is a necessity for every job thereafter.”
I wonder what my former student would say in reaction to that? Friedman follows that strong statement with this: “Today’s American dream is more of a journey than a fixed destination--and one that increasingly feels like walking up a down escalator. You can do it. We all did it as kids--but you have to walk faster than the escalator, meaning that you need to work harder, regularly reinvent yourself, obtain at least some form of postsecondary education, make sure that you engage in lifelong learning, and play by the new rules while also reinventing some of them. THEN YOU CAN BE IN THE MIDDLE CLASS.”
Wow! Great stuff. He absolutely refuses to sugar coat what young adults are facing today. And we grey-beards need to shift gears as well if we are to continue to prosper. His book is not shrill. Friedman warns about robots but stresses that they will not take up every job out there. People will need to be sharpening their skills again and again, however.
He does a very nice job of talking about climate change without being alarmist. He and I agree but I think he needs to have a bit more faith in technology to solve our problems.
My only big disagreement with him is about solutions. As a libertarian leaning thinker, I find that his answer to almost everything goes back to new federal programs and regulations. There have to be market solutions to many of the problems that he identifies.
I strongly recommend THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE. There is not a single page in the text where Friedman did not make me think.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org